On Innovation in the Old School Renaissance

The Old School of the Future! (source)
The Old School Renaissance is dead, right?

The blogosphere is drying up, no one is writing anything new, the end times are neigh! The gaming explosion is dead.

Well, not so much.

Let's ignore the fact that the 5th edition launch, a monstrosity somehow combining the best parts of 4th edition with a Basic/Expert shell had the largest launch of any Dungeons and Dragons edition ever.

What has the Old School Renaissance and the blogosphere been doing in 2015? Let's take a look:

Blogs of Note

The Patreon supported Alexandrian posted "Don't prep plots! the principles of Role Playing Game Villainy" not one week into 2015.  This kind of refinement of ideas and analysis turning into concrete tools you can use at the table continues all year long at the Alexandrian. This includes posts such as The Art of Rulings, discussing in depth the process of making rulings at the table. The essay was started in 2011, but the extensive essays on parts two through six were all published between October and November of 2015. The series is a practical and academic look at what actually occurs at the table during a role-playing game, and is a good example of why role playing games aren't Magical Tea Parties.

He also produced a number of adventures posted up on the blog, including, The Lost Laboratories of Arn  A radical expansion of two one-page dungeons that he prepared for his players, but was never used. It's stated up for his personal simplified 3rd edition, making it trivial to convert. He also produced numerous full adventures, remixes, and expansions of adventures for a variety of systems, Star Wars, Trail of Cuthulu and the Strange.

There's also the standard insights and useful advice always found on his blog. Most notable in 2015 is the exhaustive analysis and dissection in his manifesto on Railroading.

The Alexandrian is over a decade old and was one of my personal portals into the online community. It recently has experienced a resurgence in creative content. This is due to people giving him money. It is totally bonkers how that works. That said, this format is producing blog posts, where his Kickstarter met with less success.

Ok, ok, you say. Of course Jason produced some awesome stuff in 2015. He's been doing it for a decade. Telling you the Alexandrian has good content is low-hanging fruit. You're probably saying to yourself, "That isn't innovation! That's analysis and categorization!" Fine.

Let's talk about Centerra!

This year was the most prolific year by Goblin Punch author +Arnold K. There is no writer who's work I find more exciting. Every place and thing he describes has a reality to it and yet remains eminently gameable.

I don't think there's ever been a setting outside my own I gave much of a damn about, but I dream of the day Centerra gets released.

So what did Arnold do in 2015? Highlights include his work on class design, In fact, his whole suite of classes are designed to tackle unique problems and make them gameable, from the  Bug Collector, a class that has catch and release spells based on terrain to the rat master a class based around disposable minions, to the Hierodule a class based around pacifism, to Duet classes for two players like Brute/Rider and Dog/Master designed to be played by two people. Nothing innovative there, eh?

No, wait. I'm not doing a good job of communicating the value of his work.

How can I make you believe? He's revamping undead. Read this from the Shade revamping:

"Non-magical, non-holy damage cannot reduce a shade below 1 HP.  When they are at 1 HP, they look like a person-shaped hole in the universe and speak like a windstorm (full of wordless sound and fury)."

It's all like that. Every word of every post.

What's the other big news of 2015? Multiplexer writing Dungeonocomics at Critical Hits. This series is filled with the most thought provoking and creative essays on the Dungeons and Dragons gestalt. If you're not reading it, you should be.

Most non-old school games I've played in are a pastiche of tropes about medieval society. Never something creative, rarely original, and mostly pseudo-medieval dressing as a backdrop between set-piece battles, which also usually aren't very interesting.

Real history is fsking hypnotic and bizarre. We need more of that in our games, but that's kind of hard to implement, what with the magic and all. Enter Dungeonomics, which examines what actually happens to the pearl market on the supply curve of evil to how a tontine would function in a magical, adventurer rich world. Who's behind those quest-givers and what are their real motivations? Cargo cults and how Murder hobos are natural risk assessment machines. Murder hobo insurance, flying castles, scams, wealth distribution, price ceilings, and more!

It is some mind-blowing fantastic writing going on over there.

Drama in 2015

So, what was the drama in 2015?

Gnome Stew, wrote one of their most telling articles in years, reaffirming for me, at least, that I wasn't wrong about removing them from my feed. I wasn't getting any useful gaming content, and what they had for me was social drama content. Pretty simply, I don't feel like a creep, because, I'm not! James Raggi had a much more thorough and eloquent response.

That's not all, because the escapist doubled down on letting us know they were sexist discriminatory frat boys with money, but the really interesting part is the personal experience of being a creative who works with them.

As an aside, even when restricted to chromosomes gender isn't binary. It's made up of a bunch of different systems, all of which are made from gooey non-binary flesh which produce people. So Brandon Morse's claim is doubly ignorant, both of science fact and his attitude towards gender. In physical reality gender is a spectrum, so if that isn't something you're comfortable with, you're going to have a bad time.

As long as we're discussing 2015 drama, let's not forget the invention of the term "Sealioning". This particular drama is interesting because it's about public and private spaces. A blog, the internet, facebook, twitter, these are all public spaces as public as a town square. But because of their presentation to us, many people feel that isn't the case. If I make a public statement, well, then, people have the right to hold me accountable for it, no matter what I think they should or shouldn't do. A lot of this clears right up when you start to respect spaces as they actually are, rather than how you wish them to be. (Obviously this leads into Twitter taking a cultural stance in 2016, but we're talking about last year, sooo. . . )

Another worrying piece of early year drama, what's OK for us to read? Because if you talk about the wrong person or the wrong game, you get their negative traits transferred to you! This is how James Raggi became a Nazi. Or not.

Oh, and we aren't going to get through this section without mentioning the enormity of Ken "Whit" Whitman, who bilked kickstarter backers of out of over 140,000$, bought a new car, went on vacation, and then lied to backers over and over again as campaign after campaign failed to deliver, continuing his decade long habit of stealing from the gaming community.

Speaking of kickstarters, Far West? It's too late to join the pool, but it's good reading.

There was also a fair bit of drama with the Gygax family this year. From a lawsuit against Gygax magazine, causing both brothers to cease their association with it and cessation of publication, to vague non-answers from Gail Gygax about the status of the Gygax Memorial fund. Why is it so hard to get the memorial built? Where's the money Gail? The news isn't good.

If we just let people lie to us, they will continue to lie to us. Hold people accountable!

Join us for part 2 tomorrow, when we look at posts of singular utility and actual product releases of 2015!

Hack & Slash 


  1. Thank you for the fantastic round-up!

    Regarding the "drying up" of the community, it's amazing how much new content I can read every day and still miss fantastic stuff!

  2. Hellahexi has the right of it. These click heavy posts are some of the best. I don't have time to read everything, so I appreciate when somebody whose opinion I trust gives me a bunch of potential things to read. That first pass edit saves me a lot of time and helps me find things I might have missed.

    So...thanks for this, Courtney.

  3. The OSR produces more content than I can possibly consume. Perhaps this or that blog stops publishing, but that's an individual, not a community.

  4. Goblin Punch is fantastic, and I love everything on it. It has replaced Hack and Slash Master as my favorite OSR blog. Don't take that too personally, as it took three years for me to come across a blog I like even more than this one.


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